Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva's chief of staff is being reassigned after facing criticism for recent social media posts in which he said Andres Guardado, the 18-year-old who was fatally shot in the back by a deputy in the Gardena area last month, "chose his fate,'' authorities confirmed Wednesday.
The sheriff's department has initiated an administrative investigation, and Capt. John Burcher is being reassigned, sheriff's Deputy Trina Schrader said Wednesday. She declined further comment.
In an earlier interview, Villanueva said that Burcher is still a captain but is no longer serving as chief of staff.
Burcher, one of Villanueva's closest advisors, will be transferred to the agency's East Patrol Division, effective Sunday, according to an internal sheriff's department announcement reported in the Los Angeles Times.
Burcher has declined to comment on the social media posts or the new assignment. Screenshots of the posts show that Burcher also insulted other Facebook users, calling one person an idiot and calling another person a racist.
Attorneys representing Guardado's family said Burcher's comments show that the sheriff's department is incapable of conducting an independent investigation into the shooting, which has generated large protests and widespread calls for an outside inquiry.
"It is deeply troubling that on the same day Sheriff Villanueva issues a statement that the Sheriff's Department would not be providing any commentary on the Andres Guardado case until the investigation has completed, the sheriff's own chief of staff took to social media and did exactly just that,'' attorney Nicholas Yoka said in a statement Wednesday.
"Not only did Capt. Burcher personally vilify a young man who was shot and killed by one of his own deputies, he did so in a public forum and in the middle of a homicide investigation conducted by his own department,'' he continued.
"How can Captain Burcher continue to wear the uniform, let alone be Chief of Staff of the largest Sheriff's Department in the country? The Sheriff's Department has once again shown themselves incapable of conducting a thorough and independent investigation. Captain Burcher's statements demonstrate that the results of the Department's investigation are predetermined and that the Department has no interest whatsoever in finding the truth,'' Yoka said.
Investigators have said that Guardado was shot at about 6 p.m. on June 18, after two deputies saw him speaking to someone in a car blocking the entrance to a body shop on West Redondo Beach Boulevard.
Investigators said Guardado "produced a handgun'' and ran away and that deputies chased him. The deputy who fired, Miguel Vega, was not interviewed until Monday, nearly a month after Guardado's death. His attorney, Adam Marangell, said Guardado reached for his gun while face down on the ground and that the shooting was justified.
"During this interview he made clear that he did everything possible that night to avoid firing his weapon, including repeated commands to 'not reach for the gun,''' Marangell said in a statement obtained by the Times.
"Deputy Vega went to work that day to protect the citizens of the community and, unfortunately, was forced to take action which resulted in a loss of life.''
Official autopsy results showed that Guardado was shot five times in the back. Sheriff's officials said a firearm was recovered from the scene.